Friday, April 20, 2012

The mosaic of faith

I have been thinking more about why I believe there is a God and how to present my views in a logical way. I think belief in God is like a mosaic.For a start I am sure we all accept that there is no proof absolute that God exists, so that is not my objective. So what constitutes reasonable or sufficient proof?

An analogy: Archaeologists unearth a piece of a ceramic tile. What can they conclude – it is a piece of a ceramic tile. As they find more pieces of different shapes and colours they head towards a question. Are the tile fragments part of a mosaic, a picture, a work of art or just bits of tiles from a wall or floor or two?

If they assume the latter there will be little motivation to piece the bits together – you just get a few walls of tiles. However, if they are open minded and acknowledge that it is possible that the tiles are part of a picture, then, as they piece the tiles together they will start to look for a pattern and yes any emerging pattern will influence where they place each tile.

They progress to the point where a picture is staring to emerge as they find more bits of tile. Some will see a possible picture sooner than others; some may even see a different picture. Certainly different cultural backgrounds may influence the picture some see emerging.

Eventually there are enough bits of tile to form a reasonably clear picture.

I suggest that belief in God is analogous to the mosaic.
No one piece of tile is sufficient to see the picture and certainly individual pieces evidence that God exists are often unconvincing on their own.

But once we have amassed enough individual pieces we have a case to present that God exists when all the evidence is considered in its entirety.

But is this proof enough? What of those who argue that as the bits of evidence were amassed they were selected to support the argument that God exists. The analogy of the mosaic holds – there too it may be argued that as each piece is found and placed it may have been placed with a picture in mind. Guess the objection fails if the bits of tile fit really well together, but it is still an argument to consider.

How do we resolve this apparent impasse. Simply put we gather more evidence. Are there other mosaic pictures in or adjacent to the site? Did those who lived there use mosaic art? Following these questions we can validate our case that we have assembled a genuine picture. In a similar way we ask question about the evidence we have assembled into a ‘picture’ that God exists. We ask questions like is there beliefs and evidence of the existence of God in adjacent communities?

Again we may reach a belief that we have rebuilt a genuine mosaic or reached a belief in a genuine God. But as different people look at the mosaic picture they will interpret the imagery, use of colour or layout in the context of their own cultures, referring to other mosaics they have seen, ancient or modern. They will in effect see a different picture.

So too those looking at our assembled evidence for God will interpret it differently, within the context of their culture and background. They will see a different picture of God.

So if we accept we have a mosaic picture we should not expect everyone to agree about the picture – and certainly there may be some who stubbornly refuse to accept that it is a genuine reconstruction. So too we should not expect everyone to agree with either our conclusion that we have enough evidence that God exists or on the nature of God.

Unfortunately for the naysayers they face a difficult task. As with the mosaic, once it is assembled and the picture revealed; removing (or discrediting) a single piece is unlikely to hide the image in the picture. So too once we have assembled the evidence that God exists discrediting one element is unlikely to destroy the whole case.

Yes there may well be pieces of the mosaic that are in the wrong place, or perhaps belonged to another mosaic but even accepting that we have a mosaic, we can see the picture. Equally we may have accepted some invalid evidence of God’s existence, or perhaps misinterpreted it, so we need to ensure we still have sufficient evidence to “see the picture”.

Certainly I emerged from my atheism little by little as I saw the arguments for atheism being demolished. That was not immediately replaced by a belief in God; no I had to assemble quite a lot of the ‘God’ mosaic before I recognised, or was willing to recognise the picture.

Hamba kahle – peace be with you.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I believe in God

This is complex because there is no simple single reason. Unlike some atheists who can say there is no proof absolute that God exists therefore I don’t believe God exists, I have thought about this question a bit deeper and accept that proof absolute is not a prerequisite to forming a firmly holding an opinion – believing something.

I want to distinguish between belief in a religion and believing in God. Like proof absolute, a true religion is not a prerequisite for the existence of God. Ghandi said ‘God has no religion’ and I do not believe that there is only one valid religion or revelation of God. To reason about a universal God one can’t limit ones thinking to one religion; one has to think as close to universally as one can.

Thinking universally implies that one approach the question open to any and all possible outcomes. Of course at all times one has to be rational and sceptical, taking nothing at face value. I still find the quote "An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion” from Alfred North Whitehead a great guide to exploring any question; from neo-classic economics to atheism.

I will not attempt in one post present all my reasoning because in the absence of proof absolute I have to take the weight of evidence as my yardstick. No single element is in itself fully persuasive, but taken together I believe they are indeed compelling.
So as an overview I plan to structure my case around:
A: How do we know about God?
IF there is a God we would expect to have learned about it, rather than just made it up.

B: The evidence for God.
If the evidence for God present in any one religion is persuasive, then that is enough.

C: Are there any good counter arguments? Evaluating the atheist case.
I have yet to encounter a persuasive atheist argument. Until I do, I say there are none, case closed. Feel free to enlighten me if you think I have missed one.

Atheists often accuse theists of moving the goal posts in that as soon as atheists argue that one characterisation of God is improbable the theists present another. I have two things to say on this point.

Firstly, theology is an evolving discipline. We have to expect our ideas about God to evolve as they are challenged. This process is at the very heart of scholarship.

Secondly, I may offend most of religious readers by presenting a universal God that may not conform closely to the strictures of their faith.

However let me characterise the God I believe in. God is of course supernatural, spirit or metaphysical or whatever similar word you choose to describe a non-physical being.
Perhaps God is infinitely more wise, powerful, loving and whatever else than we are, or can imagine being. You can choose words like omniscient etc but I don’t like the implied limitations and besides these terms give rise to some very silly atheist arguments about making square circles. So I will talk about a God who is simply infinitely more than we are.

Sala kahle -peace


Monday, January 23, 2012

To be atheist to the universal God requires one think universally

Most atheist arguments are based around the positions of specific religions. One even argues that because religions disagree they must all be wrong.
If we want to really look at the question of God’s existence surely we need to have an open mind as to which God we are talking about – or rather which we are not talking about.

A year since my last post, no I have not lost interest it is just that my thinking has moved beyond the rather simplistic arguments of so many atheists into less well defined territory.

God is neither Christian nor Hindu, yet both believe in the divine. Surely an open minded approach is to ask if a God exists, rather than if a specific characterisation of God exists?

Ghandi said “God has no religion”, so if we rely on arguments based in a single religion to argue against the existence of God we are at best challenging the characterisation of God by that religion.

I argue that there can be more than one equally valid, but contradictory, answer to a specific question. Therefore if one religion characterises God one way and another differently both can be equally valid. Two people standing at opposite ends of a valley describe a different view, but both see the same valley.

I argue that all (bar the lunatic fringe) religions are most likely valid. Each is its own revelation by God within the cultural context of the revelation. Each revelation by God is tailored to the group to whom it is made, in a language they can understand, using imagery and symbols they can appreciate and addresses issues relevant to them.

This is not to say that we have all created a god to meet our needs, rather it is that God’s revelations to each group meets their needs. The key is in the word revelation and acknowledges that the recipients of the revelation are only human and may get bits of it wrong, or that their successors may screw it up or even abuse it.

Hamba kahle - peace